Detroit Free Press: Pave the way for better road funding
Monday, January 7, 2008
link: Detroit Free Press: Pave the way for better road funding
Gov. Jennifer Granholm is on the right road in approving a new task force to seek alternative ways to pay for transportation improvements. But she and other state leaders must show a lot more fortitude than they have demonstrated in their failure to raise the state gas tax if they want any of these new ideas to move forward.
Transportation in Michigan is now dangerously underfunded. One way or another, either through gas taxes or other fees, the people who use the system will have to pay more or drive on roads that become more battered, congested and hazardous. Just maintaining roads in their current condition would take another $320 million a year, the Michigan Department of Transportation reports. In southeast Michigan alone, roughly $30-billion worth of needed transportation projects won't get done over the next 25 years because money isn't available to do them.
Michigan's gas tax last went up by 4 cents to 19 cents per gallon in 1997.
In the long haul, Granholm is certainly right that gas taxes won't provide the answer. Here and around the country, gas tax revenues are failing to keep up with transportation needs. Automobiles are twice as fuel-efficient as they were in the 1950s, and gas tax increases have trailed inflation. Revenues from gas taxes now buy about a third of the road improvements they would have bought in the 1960s. With alternative fuels, the money problem will just get worse.
Task force members ought to entertain any reasonable alternative, including toll roads, substituting a higher sales tax for the gas tax, and odometer taxes that charge motorists for mileage. They must also consider ways to get more money to Michigan's inadequate public transportation systems.
Still, the committee's final report isn't due until April 2009. Michigan can't afford to wait that long to improve its roads and transit systems.
Until they find better ways to pay for Michigan's future transportation needs, Granholm and other leaders must have the courage to increase the state's gas tax.